Old style light bulbs – incandescent or filament bulbs – are disappearing from the shelves. In France, bulbs like that of more than 100 watts have not been on sale since June. The aim is that homes should be lit with low-energy bulbs only by 2012.
That should mean an annual saving of 40 terra watts – 10 times the amount of electricity used by the residents of Paris each year.
France is one of the leaders in developing a joined-up recycling strategy.
Herve Grimaud, director of Recylum, said: “In France, 4,000 tonnes of lightbulbs, of fluorescent tubes were recycled last year, which is about a third of the number of lightbulbs and fluorescent tubes which expired or broke last year. So at the end of two years of this strategy, a third of the lightbulbs are now being reused.”
Energy-saving lightbulbs are more expensive to buy than the classic ones, but they last much longer so could save a family up to 50 euros a year.
Delphine Olivier lives near Troyes. She has just moved over to low-energy bulbs.
“We should see a saving on the electricity bill so it won’t have been a bad investment,” she said.
But what are you supposed to do with a low-energy bulb once it’s finished?
You can check where your nearest collection point is on the website
http://www.malampe.org . There are more than 5,000 in France.
The objective of Recyclum – an eco-organisation in charge of eliminating used lightbulbs – is to have 65 per cent of all used bulbs recycled by 2016. This is what happens in one of Troyes’ collection points.
Manager Edwige Cammal said: “At this collection point we have boxes where people can drop off their low-energy bulbs, but as you can see, people are still dropping off all types of bulbs.”
Only bulbs with the symbol of a bin with a line through it, can be recycled. But that is not always clear.
This shopper had no idea: “I don’t recycle and just buy normal bulbs. And I know I shouldn’t but I throw them in the bin too.”
Actually she should. Old-style bulbs, like halogen bulbs, must be thrown in the bin – or taken to the dump. Only fluorescent tubes, low-energy bulbs, LED lights and fluocompact bulbs can be recycled at a site like Recyclum’s.
Plant director Christian Coulot said: “We deal with 1,500 tonnes of material a year – a mixture of tubes and bulbs. Twenty per cent are lightbulbs and 80 per cent are tubes. There is a recycling rate of 98 per cent – around 93 per cent is glass, between three and five per cent is metal and two per cent is powder.”
The glass from the tubes is used to make new lights, or turned into glass wool. The metals palladium and rhodium are used in electronic goods and catalytic converters. Silver, which is also harvested, has many uses. The most dangerous element in bulbs – mercury – is also reused.
M Grimmaud added: “It is shame not to recycle a low-energy bulb. First of all there are all the composite materials which won’t go to make a new product. Secondary there is the risk of pollution because the lamps contain very small amounts of dangerous substances – fluorescent powder, for example, or traces of mercury.
France is developing a joined-up recycling strategy with an eye on the future. At the end of this year 75 watt old-style lightbulbs will be withdrawn from the shops.